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Adoption of Kelsey S

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Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

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Bloomberg Law

Citation. 1 Cal. 4th 816,823 P.2d 1216;4 Cal. Rptr. 2d 615,1992 Cal.

Brief Fact Summary. Petitioner, an unwed father, petitioned the court to prevent the adoption of his biological son. The child’s mother consented to the adoption.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. If an unwed father promptly comes forward and demonstrates a full commitment to his parental responsibilities his federal constitutional right to due process prohibits the termination of his parental relationship absent a showing of unfitness as a parent.


Facts. Kari S. gave birth to Kelsey, with the child’s undisputed natural father being petitioner Rickie M. The couple was not married, and petitioner was aware that Kari planned to place their child for adoption. Two days after the birth, petitioner filed an action to establish his parental relationship and to obtain custody. The court awarded temporary custody to petitioner, and the prospective adoptive parents filed an adoption petition alleging that only the mother’s consent to the adoption was required because there was no statutorily presumed father. The court modified its order, awarding the birth mother temporary custody and ordering her to live with the child in a shelter for unwed mothers. The court prohibited visitation by either the prospective parents or petitioner. The prospective adopters petitioned to terminate petitioner’s parental rights. The court allowed petitioner to have supervised visitation and allowed the prospective adopters to have unsupervised visita
tion. The parties stipulated that petitioner was the child’s natural father, but the court ruled that he was not a presumed father within meaning of the statute. The court held hearings to determine if it was in the child’s best interest for petitioner to retain parental rights and if the adoption should be allowed to proceed. The attorney appointed to represent the child’s interests advocated that petitioner should be allowed to retain parental rights. The court found by a bare preponderance of the evidence that the child’s best interest required termination of petitioner’s parental rights. Petitioner appealed, contending that the court erred by: 1) concluding he was not the child’s presumed father; 2) not granting him a parental placement preference; and 3) applying a preponderance of the evidence standard of proof.

Issue. Is a natural father’s federal constitutional rights violated if his child’s mother is allowed to unilaterally preclude him from obtaining the same legal right as a presumed father to withhold his consent to his child’s adoption by third parties?

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